News / Arts & Entertainment

Lee Daniels' 'The Butler' Revisits US Civil Rights History

Filmmaker Lee Daniels Revisits US Civil Rights Historyi
X
August 15, 2013 1:54 AM
Lee Daniels' The Butler carries the signature of acclaimed director Lee Daniels, whose fim Precious won an Oscar. Now, he tells the story of the Civil Rights movement through the eyes of a White House butler as he served eight U.S. presidents. VOA's Penelope Poulou has more.
Penelope Poulou
Lee Daniels' The Butler carries the signature of acclaimed director Lee Daniels, whose fim Precious won an Oscar. Now, he tells the story of the Civil Rights movement through the eyes of a White House butler as he served eight U.S. presidents. 

In Lee Daniels' The Butler, Cecil Gaines is the unassuming servant who epitomizes race relations in 1950s America. Forrest Whitaker offers a layered interpetation of Cecil.

"At that time, to have a position where you're working in the White House was a big deal economically speaking, socially speaking. But then there are also those who look at people in the service industry as uncle Toms, or people who are servants,
 Whitaker said. "You can serve without being servile, and I think there is a very big difference between the two things."

Cecil doesn’t fight for social change but he unwittingly affects it by serving eight presidents.

But Cecil is not as sure-footed at home as he is at the White House. His wife, Gloria, resents his long hours and turns to alcohol and other temptations. His eldest son, Louis, a civil rights activist, looks down at his father.

Oprah Winfrey offers an Oscar-worthy performance as Gloria.

"I think of all of the men and women who served either as butlers or chefs, cooks, maids, janitors, and I think that the 'aha'  is the grace and nobility that it took to do that, to hold your head up every day, to build a family, and build a life that supported you and your community," she said. "I just have a greater sense of pride for that man, those men and that time."

Martin Luther King, played by Nelson Ellis, tells Louis that a butler or a maid, although perceived as subservient, is in many ways subversive without knowing it.  Cecil Gaines was certainly that. His character is based on Eugene Allen, the real White House butler, who witnessed major events while serving as the White House butler for 34 years.

But the film is ultimately about America, says filmmaker Lee Daniels.

"It's a civil rights story, but it is a father and son story," he said. "And the father and son story transcends race."

The film has a healing effect. And, while it serves as a reminder of racial struggle and injustice, it also celebrates Americans' ability to overcome.

You May Like

Computer Crash Halts US Visa, Passport Operation

Problems with database have resulted in extensive backlog of applications, affected State Department's consular offices all over the world More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

World Bank: Boko Haram Stalls African Aid Projects

Islamist group’s terrorism sets back agriculture, health efforts in Cameroon, Chad and Nigeria More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnelsi
X
July 24, 2014 4:42 AM
The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video MH17's 'Black Boxes' Could Reveal Crash Details

The government of Malaysia now has custody of the cockpit voice and flight data recorders from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was hit by a missile over Ukraine before crashing last week. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports, the so-called black boxes may hold information about the final minutes of the flight.
Video

Video Living in the Shadows Panel Discussion

Following a screening of the new VOA documentary, "AIDS - Living in the Shadows," at the World AIDS conference in Melbourne, a panel discussed the film and how to combat the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

The Hamilton Live

Acclaimed jazz saxophonist Tia Fuller has made a name for herself appearing with such high-profile artists as Beyonce, Esperanza Spalding, and Terri Lyne Carrington. Tia and her quartet performed music from her CD “Angelic Warrior” on our latest edition of "The Hamilton Live."